x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

UAE cyber law is full of surprises

A discussion of what is and is not legal to do online in the UAE.

DUBAI // Social media users may unwittingly commit a crime by simply tagging a photo, warns Joseline Khairallah, a lawyer in Dubai.

"Legally in this country, you're not allowed to take or use a photo of a person without their permission. The only time you can is when a company uses one of an employee and clearly states so," she said.

"A person can sue another for posting photos of them on Facebook, but it's a very difficult procedure because there is a lack of regulation on the internet, and it's very difficult to prove these cases."

The challenge is that cyber crime is evolving more quickly than the law, Dr Mohammed al Kaabi, a federal court judge, says.

Gaps in the current law mean someone who steals passwords is not doing anything illegal, and can be prosecuted only if he uses the stolen password.

Ms Khairallah noted that public information on social sites can imperil your job status.

"Companies have the right to terminate an employee's contract if a violation takes place during working hours," she said. "Outside working hours, they also have the right to fire employees if they are seen to be defaming their company on a social networking site, or indeed anywhere else."

And with a recent survey showing that 79 per cent of internet users in the Middle East and North Africa spend up to three hours a day on social networks, the chances of such a slip could be high.

"Without a doubt, people should be careful while using social networking websites," said Alex McNabb, director of the Dubai firm Spot On Public Relations. "People have to appreciate that their online behaviour is judged by the same criteria as their offline behaviour."

The Deira chief prosecutor Yousif Foulaz last year referred to Facebook as a criminal tool, likening it to a gun or knife used in a crime.

In one case, the accused blackmailed a woman by telling her he would use Facebook to circulate compromising images of her if she did not submit to him.

According to Dubai Police, there were more than 36 cyber crimes a month in 2009, 37 in 2010 and 43 this year.

In January 2010, the Ministry of Justice announced a specialist federal cyber crime court. The ministry, however, has not said when the court would be set up or whether the project has been scrapped.

The Japanese computer security company Trend Micro ranks the UAE ranked second only to Saudi Arabia as the most vulnerable of the Gulf countries to cyber crime.

amustafa@thenational.ae